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Oregon blocks public access to vaccine equity group’s meeting – OregonLive

Oregon’s coronavirus vaccine equity group will meet in secret today to evaluate the group’s work over the last month after the state shut down public access following weeks’ of open meetings.

Oregon’s Vaccine Advisory Committee was charged with recommending who should be vaccinated after the governor’s priority groups, with an emphasis on tackling health disparities that stem from “structural racism.” But the group’s final recommendations last week appeared rushed and some committee members expressed frustration with the process.

A spokesman for the health authority defended the decision to prohibit media or members of the public from viewing today’s 5:30 p.m. meeting, saying the group accomplished its original function at its Thursday session.

The committee “has completed its official duties and fulfilled its purpose of making recommendations” about vaccination order to the Oregon Health Authority, spokesman Rudy Owens said in an email Tuesday. “OHA is now working on planning for implementation of the committee’s recommendations. OHA will conduct an evaluation with VAC members of the committee process.”

The committee has met publicly eight times, including a meet and greet Jan. 5 that was open to the public and recorded for public viewing.

The advisory group recommended Jan. 28 that people with underlying conditions, front-line workers, people in custody and people living in low-income and group senior housing should get vaccinated next.

At about 1.2 million, or 28% of the Oregon population, the committee’s final list encompasses far more people than current vaccine supplies can accommodate in the near future.

State and local officials will likely have the final say in who among the group’s priority populations will get vaccinated when, state public health director Rachael Banks indicated during the last meeting.

The Oregon Health Authority last week said staff would review the operation and legal dimensions of the recommendations before referring them to Gov. Kate Brown.

“The committee has an optional meeting on Feb. 2 to discuss implementation issues,” the health authority announced in a news release Friday.

But state official now say that’s not the intended subject of Tuesday’s meeting. An agenda for the 5:30 p.m. session lists only “debrief and evaluation.” The state will release a summary of the Tuesday discussion, a health authority spokesman said.

The group had previously suggested that Black, Indigenous and other people be vaccinated after the governor’s priority groups. But last week, health officials said the agency couldn’t allocate resources based solely on race or ethnicity, so the committee removed those groups from the priority ranking.

The recommendations did include a statement of intention “acknowledging structural racism and pressure from systems that are not ready to center this truth about the ways structural racism impacts the health of Black, Indigenous and People of Color communities.”

— Fedor Zarkhin; [email protected]; 503-294-7674

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